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Educational reforms Sri Lanka demands today for a brighter tomorrow

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The 32nd Dr. C. W. W. Kannangara Memorial Lecture titled ‘For a country with a future’: Educational reforms Sri Lanka demands today’ delivered by Prof. Athula Sumathipala, Director, Institute for Research and Development, Sri Lanka and Chairman, National Institute of Fundemental Studies, Hanthana, on Oct 13, at the National Institute of Education, Maharagama

Continued From Tuesday (25)

Research on the current school education system, in Sri Lanka, has indicated that teachers recruited for maths and science education are often placed in schools without adequate teacher education and professional development. Short-term training sessions for these teachers are primarily carried out by Teacher Centres and Divisional Education Offices. These in-service training sessions need to be modernised to help provide teachers with the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and values to meet the demands for high-quality teachers. It is a weakness, within the system, that there is no national level consensus on the objectives to be met on Sri Lanka’s teacher education and professional development. A number of institutions work on this matter in isolation, and an eminent Sri Lankan educator, Dr. G. B. Gunewardena, stated, in 2012, that it is a necessity to have a confluent system to liaise between all these separate institutions. It is also necessary to further study the effectiveness of in-service training sessions in improving the quality of teachers.

Principals’ professional

development

This is not a factor that has received much attention in the Sri Lankan education system. All that usually happens is that the divisional/provincial education office informs principals when a new circular is issued. This has led to principals focusing more on meeting the responsibilities imposed upon them, by senior officers, and working according to the circulars, rather than on working on their responsibilities towards students and teachers nor on attempting to build a high-quality education system. There is very limited research on professional development of principals.

The key institution that offers professional development training to Sri Lankan principals is the Faculty of Education Leadership, Development and Management affiliated with the National Institute of Education. It is, however, very difficult for principals from areas faraway from Colombo to attend such trainings. Travel and financial difficulties, and the resistance to residential courses, are the key problems, whereas there is also no motivating factor for principals to participate in such programmes. It is, therefore, rare that principals, from far away areas, such as Ampara, for example, opt for continuous professional development.

However, it is clear that the number of principals participating in these trainings has increased as the training has moved to online learning. This is clearly a benefit of online education. Research on education systems in other countries has shown that although online education is less successful for school children, it can be highly effective in adult education.

For the new educational reforms to be truly effective, it is important to emphasise on the need to consider the bigger picture. Accordingly, a significant change in the mentality of students, teachers and society that helps place teachers and the teaching profession at an honoured and optimal level is necessary.

(vii) Integrating research within the overall scheme of education

Children are by nature researchers. They are inquisitive and explore the world from the day they are born. Children want to know everything; they question everything they see. Some children take apart toys to see how the toy works. This is science. Scientists, who investigate the world, are those who do what children do, in a professional and systematic manner. In this sense, every child is a researcher and a scientist. Researchers go beyond asking questions. They seek answers, or solutions, to the problem, based on research methods, make observations, arrive at conclusions, based on the observed data, and derive theories from it.

It is, therefore, easy to turn every child into a researcher and explorer. It is questionable as to what extent our education system achieves this objective. The group and individual project work introduced for G.C.E. Advanced Level students was an excellent opportunity to achieve such an objective. However, it appears that the value of this project work was not fully appreciated, and, perhaps, because of it, individual project work was removed from the Advanced Level Syllabus. I do not believe there is sufficient emphasis on research. even within the university system. Moreover, research projects are frequently concluded with the limited objective of obtaining career promotion.

Research and development, innovation and

technological transformation

The post-industrial knowledge economy and its growth is closely interlinked with innovation and localised research capacity. University-based research has been shown to be an effective driver for such economically productive innovation. In order to remain globally competitive, it is, therefore, necessary for a country to utilise state investment in universities to stimulate research and development. In line with this global trend, most top Asian Universities have transformed, from ‘Teaching Universities’ to ‘Research Universities’.

A paradigm shift is required in Sri Lankan graduate and post-graduate education to position research and innovation as a key feature and to develop persons with the creative vision for innovation, along with the wide and deep knowledge necessary to convert that vision into a reality. Contribution from research and development is critically necessary for Sri Lanka to stabilise its economy, to ensure national security and for the sustainable development of strategically important sectors. Strategy should focus on capturing available opportunities in a dynamic world since scientific opportunity cannot often be predicted. Flexibility in responding to novel ideas and seizing available opportunities is important for success. For example, the knowledge gaps that were exposed during Covid-19 created unprecedented opportunity for research on as yet unexplored fields. It is also necessary to create mechanisms in co-operation with industry, for the commercial exploitation of innovative products arising from the research, as well as for knowledge creation and transfer.

Sri Lanka urgently needs reforms in higher education that lead to establishing a value chain of co-operation and integration between multiple fields, which can ultimately result in innovation being converted to new products and services. Mere imitation of what is being done in this regard in foreign countries will not, however, suffice in this instance. An in-depth study of the geographic, cultural and socio-economic factors that can impact the relationship between universities and industry is necessary, and these findings should be used to determine a model best suited to Sri Lanka.

Co-operation between universities and industry on innovative products should be developed within a format that benefits all stakeholders. Capacity building, job creation and creation of intellectual property should also be included as part of this process. The research agenda of higher education institutions should, therefore, be developed within a structured framework of scientific, economic and social factors, that can lead to practical solutions for supporting innovation, technological development and its disbursement.

Innovation ecosystem model is a mechanism that has successfully been adopted by many countries and economies with a research and development agenda, and this could be used to help convert Sri Lankan universities into innovation centres where research and development projects are carried out. Accelerating innovation requires the cumulative action and support of a research-friendly vision and culture, legal and regulatory framework, financial and human resources, infrastructure and finally, supportive end-market users. To identify the best mechanisms to stimulate innovation in areas where Sri Lanka has a competitive edge, the innovation process should be considered in its entirety, bearing in mind the inter-dependencies between various stakeholders.

As the first step, research prioritisation should be carried out to identify the sectors which are necessary for post-Covid economic restructuring. Priority should be given to areas such as health, nutrition, food security, import substitution and export promotion. Technological innovation can be used to investigate areas such as online learning, environmental protection, increasing local production, and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and tidal energy. Policy-making, at a national level, should be evidence-based and universities should be encouraged to play a pivotal role in this endeavour.

Secondly, research and development centres should be created with a global vision, adhering to the highest quality measures and research should be carried out on the most globally relevant fields, so that these institutions and the research benefits generated remain globally competitive. Building effective links with globally reputed research and development institutions, entrepreneurs and industry can add further value to Sri Lankan universities and entrepreneurs, leading to further national development.

In order to arrive at this transformation, attention needs to be paid to increasing resources through investment, identifying and utilising skilled human resources, recruiting and retaining the best researchers and innovators, and to carrying out critically necessary structural changes. Further, key factors necessary are: establishing the highest quality research centres, collective action to raise funds including sourcing donations, and, improving the ability to compete for international research funding. A ‘Department for sourcing, supporting and managing research funding’ should be established at university level. Post-graduate programmes should be structured around key research projects that can lead to effective outputs.

For knowledge creation, it is necessary to strengthen research in Sri Lankan universities.

The focus of research should shift from publishing research papers and using it for promotion towards commercial development of the outcomes of the research.

The new knowledge created from research should be useful for socio-economic development, yielding returns to the public. It is necessary to address the loopholes in this process, to remove obstacles and create opportunities for research that leads to intellectual property creation, innovation and commercialisation. The University Act could be used for this purpose.

Research findings should be used to inform policy-making at national, regional and international levels.

The obstacles to bringing in competitively won research funding from reputed foreign research funding institutions into the country, should be removed urgently.

We need to clearly understand that we live in an era which demands not one Dr. Kannangara but hundreds of, thousands of, Dr. Kannagaras in order to overcome the challenges ahead of us.

The single mechanism to overcome the multiple crises Sri Lanka faces now is to create productive citizens meeting the requirements of the modern world. Finally, I would like to emphasize that this is, indeed, the most appropriate time for a discussion on the broad educational reforms necessary to develop teachers, intellectuals, educators and politicians who can think beyond personal gain, have the knowledge, skills, attitude and the will, to help create such citizens.

Special thanks to Dr. Godwin Kodithuwakku, Former Director, Research and Development Unit, National Institute of Education.

References

1. K.H. M. Sumathipala, The History of Education in Sri Lanka 1796-1965. Tissa Prakashakayo. Dehiwala. 1968.

2. Dr. Swarna Jayaweera, ‘Expansion of educational opportunity–an unfinished task’. Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara Memorial Oration 1989. 13 October 1989.

3. Professor Narada Warnasuriya. ‘The role of the state in higher education’. Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara Memorial Oration 2008. 16 October 2008.

4. Professor Sujeewa Amarasena. ‘Medical Education and the Kannangara Philosophy’. Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara Memorial Oration 2017. 13 October 2017.

5. Mr. R.S. Medagama. ’A review of educational reforms in the Post-Kannangara era.’ Dr. C.W.W. Kannangara Memorial Oration 2014. 13 October 2014.

6. Institute for Research and Development, Battaramulla. ‘’Educational reforms the country demands to create a productive citizen adaptable to the modern world’. Gaveshana, January-March 2022. 39th edition.

About the auther….

Prof. Athula Sumathipala is the Director, Institute for Research and Development, Sri Lanka, which he proposed and co-founded in 1997. Since 2020 he is the Chairman of the National Institute of Fundamental Studies at Hanthana Kandy. He is a Visiting Professor in Psychiatry and Biomedical Research at the Faculty of Medicine, Kotelawala Defence University, Sri Lanka. Prof. Sumathipala has an academic background in Psychiatry and Family Medicine. Furthermore, Prof Athula Sumathipala is also an Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at School of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, Keele University, UK. He is also an Emeritus Professor of Global Mental Health, Kings College, London, UK. He is a Member of the Regional Expert Group on Mental Health for WHO South-East Asia Region. He is the only Sri Lankan to serve as an Editorial Board member of the British Journal of Psychiatry, since it was founded in 1850s.

He is considered an international expert in mental health, ethics and twin research. The majority of his research is based in Sri Lanka, and he has given leadership to multicentre research in collaboration with internationally renowned researchers. He has made an impressive global contribution to scholarly work exceeding 100 publications and text book chapters to publications arising from Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press

The greatest contribution in his academic career is the establishment of the Institute for Research & Development (IRD) in Sri Lanka, nurturing it from one room and a handful of people to what it is today: an internationally recognised academic research centre that conducts innovative research for policy impact, locally and internationally, and promotes capacity building at all levels.

The IRD received ‘Excellence in international collaboration for the advancement of science and technology’ National Awards Science and Technology Achievements 2018. Its founder Prof Sumathipala received. Individual outstanding leadership in promoting and developing science and technology. National Awards Science and Technology Achievements 2018. He has received HE President’s award (National Research Council of Sri Lanka) for publications in 2001, 2009, annually from 2010 to 2015, and in 2017.

He has been a research ambassador for Sri Lanka, representing the country as a keynote speaker, and panellist at a number of high-profile scientific meetings in numerous international locations.



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Features

The Ukraine War approaches second year

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18 Dead in Two Mass Shootings in California

by Vijaya Chandrasoma

The Russian aggression against Ukraine enters into its second year of warfare next month. A year of tragedy which has brought neither success nor failure, only untold suffering and the destruction of lives, property, economies and resources – on both sides. A Pyrrhic victory falsely claimed, by both aggressor and prey, as the warfare shows no signs of appeasement or resolution.

Putin’s argument for the illegal invasion of an independent neighbour centers on a fundamental issue: the legitimacy of the sovereignty of Ukraine. Ukraine is one of the 15 states which broke away from the Kremlin in 1991.

Putin has been the President of Russia since 1999, and has always bewailed the dissolution of the USSR. He has long expressed a worldview that the deep-seated unity among the Eastern Slavs, Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians, with origins to the medieval Kyivan Rus Commonwealth, should share a common political destiny. He claims that Ukraine and Belarus are integral parts of the Russian Federation, a belief that is contemptuously rejected by sovereign nations like Ukraine.

Putin is also of the opinion that NATO is using the proud and jealous independence of these nations, combined with the continuing expansion of the Treaty in Europe, as part of an “anti-Russia” project.The annexation of Ukraine, which Putin thought would be achieved in a few weeks, with Russian forces being hailed as “liberators”, is eerily similar to George W. Bush’s illegal US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

That was another violent misadventure on contrived evidence, that Iraq was responsible for the terrorist attack on the twin towers on 9/11. In reality, it was a cynical act of aggression to protect American self-interests and oil resources in Iraq. An illegal war which ended in 2011, with the Americans retreating. Not as liberators, but having caused mass destruction to people, property and infrastructure, quaintly described as collateral damage, leaving Iraq mired in internecine violence. American forces were withdrawn by President Obama in 2011, as the Iraqi invasion was fast approaching the tragic consequences of another Vietnam.

Ukraine’s resistance to Russian aggression has been nothing short of heroic, under the brave leadership of President Zelensky. With unprecedented moral and military support of NATO, especially Germany and the USA, Ukrainians have shown the determination and courage to stay the course, to force the aggressor to retreat with their tails between their legs, and so maintain the sovereignty of their nation.

Even if Russia succeeds in the illegal annexation of Ukraine, Putin will not have the resources necessary to retain control against a hostile, brave and independent people for any appreciable length of time. Trillions of dollars have already been expended on “collateral damage” on both sides, threatening global recession, with exponential increases in poverty and privation.

The Ukraine war is the latest of 500+ years of wars, genocides, purges, rebellions and religious conflict, which have claimed over 500 million lives, perhaps more than half the population of the planet during their times. At least 50% of these lives have been lost on religious wars, including the Crusades. Murder and mayhem committed on the sacred names of the leaders and Gods who invariably preach peace, compassion and non-violence. As comedian/satirist George Carlin said, “More people have been killed in the name of God than for any other reason”.

The military-industrial complex – international networks of individuals, associations and institutions involved in the production of weapons and military technologies, have made the cynical comment that they need a “good” war – not just a skirmish here, an insurrection there, but a catastrophic international war, at least every decade. Their aim is to financially “persuade” the politicians with the power to marshal political support on increased national military spending, to keep the economies of their respective nations humming, and the profits of international arms manufacturers safely ensconced in the Cayman Islands. They have succeeded beyond the wildest of their dreams.

The freedom to the manufacture of military style spending for civilian use in the United States is jealously guarded by the National Rifle Association. The NRA relies on a false interpretation of the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, that it provides a mandate for every American over 18 years of age to buy lethal weapons, even military-style guns, with no legal restriction.

I have written extensively on the epidemic of gun violence in the USA in the past, and will only reiterate the statement made by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Warren Burger, nominated by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1969. He stated in 1991 that the “gun lobby’s interpretation of the Second Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the Second Amendment was to ensure that state armies – the militia – would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the Second Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires”.

The current reality in the USA is that anyone over 18 years of age can stop in at the neighbourhood gun shop or a Walmart’s, and purchase a military style AK 15, or any such lethal weapon. Over the counter, no questions asked. This purchase, made for whatever immediate or future reason, emanates an intensely gratifying sensation of an increase in the size of the male buyer’s penis. I have no information on how the purchase of such weaponry would titillate the sensations of a woman. Perhaps the gun crazy, far right Republican congresswomen like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert will be better able to describe the satisfaction they feel when they brandish these powerful weapons.

Just last week, an Asian male, 72-year-years old, shot 42 rounds, killing at least 11 people and wounding many more, some critically, in a few minutes of mayhem in a dance studio in Monterey Park, Los Angeles, California, as Asians were joyfully celebrating the Chinese New Year.

The “containment” of this mass shooting is being hailed as a triumph for law enforcement, as two of its officers, assisted by a brave young man, confronted and disarmed the shooter before he went on his second rampage of shooting, forcing the shooter to take his own life.

Brandon Tsay, a 26-year-old Asian man, is credited with preventing further violence by subduing the gunman before he could shoot more people. A true hero who admitted to fear when the gunman pointed the gun at him, fear that did not prevent him from tacking and disarming him. Nelson Mandela once said: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”. Brandon Tsay admitted to such fear but still acted within seconds to save lives. He is indeed such a brave man.

A second mass shooting, described as “workplace violence” at a mushroom farm in Half Moon Bay, Northern California, was committed the day after the Monterey Park massacre. At least seven people were killed, with another in critical condition. The suspect, an Asian man 67-years-old, is in custody. It is believed that he acted on his own, his motivation is still unknown.Two mass shootings on consecutive days, in the state with the most stringent gun regulations in the country.

Depending on band-aid remedies and occasional acts of heroism in a continuing plague of mass shootings throughout the country in no way reduces the tragedies caused by this fatal disease. Effective cures are available in the form of increased gun control and mental health measures, which would certainly alleviate the severity of the disease. Measures, approved by 80% of Americans of all political stripe, but continually and criminally withheld by the political power of the National Rifle Association (NRA), with the help of its bought and paid for politicians.

Such regulations are in force in every other developed nation, which have a mere per-capita fraction of mass shootings and deaths, tragedies the USA endures with increasing frequency.

Reminds me of the pre-1970 advertisements of the tobacco lobby, who, with access to incontrovertible evidence that smoking causes cancer, stated that cigarettes do not cause cancer. Besides, smoking makes you look cool. The gun lobby parrots this famous statement that guns do not kill people, people kill people. And guns also make you look cool and highlights your manhood.

Other instances of gun violence caused by criminal negligence were recently and spectacularly exhibited in January, at Newport, Virginia and Beech Grove, Indiana. These were not classified as “mass shootings”, but gave some indication that gun violence will keep escalating, unless immediate restrictive steps are taken.

In early January, a six-year-old boy pulled out a handgun from his backpack and shot at his teacher. The teacher, 26-years-old, threw up her hand but the bullet passed through it and hit her in the chest. Though badly injured, she was able to scramble her other 20 students into the safety of the hallway. She remains in critical but stable condition.

In Beech Grove, Indiana, a neighbour in an apartment complex noticed a four-year old toddler roaming around, “on patrol”, waving a loaded automatic pistol and pulling at the trigger. The child had taken the gun that had been lying on his father’s unsecured desk. The neighbour called the police, who took the gun away from the child. Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Looks like the minimum age for access to guns has been lowered to include toddlers in the United States. Our children are becoming constantly exposed to, and comfortable with, easy access to guns and their uses. Perhaps in 20 years a gun will be considered to be as essential a part of the everyday possessions of the younger generation as a smart phone is today. A terrifying thought.

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There’s NO statute of limitations on crimes against humanity

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by Kumar David

There is no statute of limitations for crimes against humanity in respect of place or time. That is, a judge in Argentina for example, can adjudicate on alleged crimes against humanity by the Franco dictatorship in Spain, or by Pinochet in Chile. Any liberal democratic country can act on its own or act in the UN Human Rights Council in respect, for example, of human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government during the period when Gotabaya Rajapaksa was Secretary of Defence. This is aside from the specific charges lying in US courts against Gotabaya for the murder of Lasantha Wickremesinghe. I am not sure whether the US courts will hold that Lasantha’s murder is a straightforward criminal offence or a crime against humanity. Either way social scorn makes it difficult for Gota or his family to live without opprobrium in the US. But for so long as antipathy to Tamils endures it may provide a temporary shelter. (Of course, it works the other way round as well).

Whoever controls the past controls the narrative of the future and determines a nation’s amnesty law. The identity of the killers who worked out of the Tripoli Market, the names of the officers who murdered the young Tamil men on the Trinco Beach and the identity of politician-officers who covered up for them is no secret. The press, the political classes and the relatives of the victims know it all. In this sense we can say that this is all a matter of public knowledge. Though it is obligatory that those responsible be prosecuted and punished we also know that this is unlikely. Though the global pressure to hold persons responsible for human rights violations to account, and though crimes against human rights have no statute of limitations in respect of place or time, nevertheless the mills of god grind slowly and one can only pray that they will grind exceedingly fine.

There is another disturbing example from Spain – the Amnesty Law enacted in 1977, two years after Franco’s death, which declared that members of the regime could not be prosecuted for crimes committed during the dictator’s reign or during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) which saw more than half a million deaths during Franco’s rise to power. The gist of it was, forget the past; make a fresh start with a clean slate. Torturers and murders from the Franco years were to be forgiven. I fear something similar is possible when assigning responsibility for the thousands of young men and women, mostly Tamils, held in prison under emergency laws for 10 to 20 years. It is certain that the Sri Lankan state will attempt to smuggle in provisions of this nature. The government of the day, of whichever rascals is in power, will attempt to pardon Lankan State officials who beat, tortured or murdered prisoners.

It is incumbent on every one of us to reject these attempts. It would be more useful if the Front-Line Socialists and the NPP/JVP activists associated with Aragalaya devote their efforts to preventing this instead of demanding a constitutionally superior extra-parliamentary status for themselves.

The United Nations as long ago as 2013 called on Spain to overturn the Amnesty Law that pardons crimes committed during the 36-year dictatorship of General Francisco Franco. Hundreds of thousands of died or disappeared during Spain’s civil war and subsequent dictatorship, but the crimes have been shielded under the Amnesty Law passed two years after Franco’s death. “It is regrettable the situation of impunity for cases of enforced disappearances that occurred during the civil war and the dictatorship. There is no ongoing effective criminal investigation nor any person convicted,” the UN said.

To move on to another but related topic of international accountability, I have long argued in these pages that globally, liberal opinion and democratic nations cannot and will not permit Sri Lanka to descend into anarchy and military dictatorship since it is one of the very few surviving post-colonial democracies. India is large, diverse and can look after itself. I am surprised not to have had any explicit support for this point of view in these pages and this is why I repeat it today. India too, for her own reasons, will not permit a military take-over or anarchy on her Southern littoral. For example, 2000 jawans were sacrificed to thwart Prabakharan and to keep JR in check. For all these reasons I am confident that both naked military dictatorship and an anarchist breakdown in Sri Lanka are unlikely. Outbursts of anarchy as in 1971 or 1989-90 will again be brought under control with international support. (I will take up relations with China anon).

To move on, what is the likely economic scenario in this country in say the 12 to 24 months ahead? The global context is uncertain. Most analysts predict a global recession, though a few analysts dispute its intensity. The global interest rate and inflation scenario is on the whole gloomy. I have written before about President Joe Biden’s populist-inflationary economic agenda and indicated that it will not let the rest of the world escape from the debt-trap it is mired in. The UK has suffered three prime ministers in the last year and PM Sunak seems at cross purposes with the Bank of England. Mitterrand has lost control of the domestic political narrative; Italy seems unable to form a government and Putin’s future is at stake. Very unusual times the like of which we have not seen since the 1920s and 30s. The background to all this is the prospect of a global economic recession or depression.

To be realistic then, we in Lanka have to expect a difficult two years ahead. Although the cuts demanded by the IMF have in fact already been passed on to the people in the form of steep price increases the following concerns remain. There is tension in respect of how demands on earnings derived from exports are allocated to different sectors – manufacturers, primary crop producers and financial services. And third there is the difficulty of persuading China to restructure Sri Lanka’s debt rather than simply rescheduling payments as it has insisted on doing up to now. The end result is that prudent strategic management of the economy is the priority. The President’s team, the Central Bank’s managers, and the private sector are not on the same page nor speak the same language. The point then is that there is no one boss and the President who should be exercising overall control does not have the team and the authority. He does not have people with the understanding, inclination and sobriety of how to pull it off. The game is likely to be amateurish and therefore messy. Predictions are fraught.

The last matter I wish to dwell on is the unexpected tensions that have arisen in the Chinese economic system; so serious that it has complicated the political future of President Xi Jinping. There are rumblings that his zero blowout Covid strategy has been a spectacular failure. Though he has secured a third term, confirmation of a life-presidency at the next party conference is unlikely. What are Xi’s achievements? Mao, though he fell psychologically in his later years, led the Chinese people to liberation from 1921-1949, Deng Xiaoping led the modernisation of the Chinese economy for nearly 30 years till his death in 1997.

Comparatively, what has Xi achieved? Just a cock-up of Covid policy to the point where his zero-tolerance approach lies in shambles, the economy has been damaged and young people are angry and revolting. All this may not be bad news for countries along the New Silk Road. Maybe China will be forced to accept a new and more generous approach to debt restructuring.

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Law student days in London and Lincoln’s Inn

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Excerpted from The Memoirs of a Cabinet Secretary by BP Peiris

(Continued from last week)

One day, in the Library, J. B. C. Rodrigo was reading Pollock on torts. A ‘tort’ in law is a civil wrong. There was, next to him a hoary, old gentleman, making weird noises in his breathing which was distracting Rod’s attention. He went across to another table and asked someone who the old buffoon was, to be told “Good Lord, don’t you know? That’s Sir Frederic Pollock”. Our law books are always styled with the author’s name first. For example, there is ‘Anson on the Crown’, ‘Parry on Contracts’ and ‘Odgers on Libel and Slander’. A girl friend of mine, seeing the last named book with me, asked me ‘What’s an odger?’

I passed my Roman Law in Class III within six weeks of my joining the Inn and was very proud of it and cabled my father to give him the good news. I had a snorter from him by ordinary mail. There was no hurry, he said, to pass these examinations, all the papers had to be taken together. The Director of Legal studies of the Council of Legal Education informed me that I had got a good second class mark in the Common Law and Equity papers and a very good second class mark in the General Paper. In the Evidence and Civil Procedure papers and the paper on Roman-Dutch Law I had got a first class mark.

By a strange turn of events or an unusual stroke of luck, call it what you like, I was the only Ceylonese student to pass each of the principal law examinations which I sat. Seven of us sat the London University Intermediate Laws and six failed; nine of us sat the LL. B. and eight failed; twelve sat the Bar Final and eleven failed! I have before me, the Bar Final Examination results of the Hilary Examination, 1932: examined 94, passed 53. There was one in Class I (not from Lincoln’s Inn). I was placed in Class 11, fourth in order of merit, and I was just beaten by a silver-haired old lady who sat next to me during the examination.

Now came the day of our call to the Bar. The Juniors who had passed the Final and were about to be ‘called’ no longer sat at the students’ table. We had a table to ourselves and, as all my friends had failed the Final, I was the only Ceylonese at the table. At Lincoln’s Inn, Call is always after dinner. The different Inns have different customs in this matter.

Our full names were shouted by an usher, we walked up to the dais as each name was called, the Treasurer on the dais bowed three times, each bow being returned by the student, the Treasurer shook hands and then said “By the authority and on behalf of the Masters of the Bench I publish Mr… a Barrister of this Honourable Society” Three more bows on each side and we were back at our table, each one a Barrister-at-law, awaiting our orders.

When the ceremony was over, barristers and students, who had been dining, left. The Benchers left for their private chamber. The Juniors remained. After a short time, the usher came and summoned us into this private, red-carpeted room. There were the Benchers, seated round the table, with vacant seats between them. A Junior sat with a Bencher on either side of him. They rose as we entered. There were more drinks, and cigars and cigarettes served in ancient silver boxes.

They were great gentlemen and great hosts. I sat between Lord Buckmaster and a well-known King’s Counsel, whose name I have forgotten. Several times the Peer shouted to the waiter to “Fill the gentleman’s glass”. I reluctantly kept pace hoping that I would not disgrace the Honourable Society by ending up as a casualty like my friend an Grand Night.

This reminds me of a poem by Benjamin H. Burt:

One evening in October,

When I was far from sober

And dragging home a load with manly pride,

My feet began to stutter

So I laid down in the gutter

And a pig came up and parked right by my side.

Then I warbled “It’s fair weather When good fellows get together”

Till a lady passing by was heard to say

“You can tell a man who boozes By the company he chooses.”

Then the pig got up and slowly walked away.

The Treasurer, Lord Blanesborough, made a speech congratulating the Juniors and telling them a few things about professional ethics, the nobility of the profession and the dignity of the bar. The person who replied was the student, if any, who had passed in Class I. There was no one in my year. The task, under the rules, therefore fell on the student who, according to seniority, was the oldest by date of admission. The honour fell to someone who said in his speech that he was old vintage – he was enrolled in 1914 and was called in 1932.

At the time I was called, there were very few in Ceylon who had passed in Class I and I valued my Class II high. As far as I know, those who had passed in Class I were F. A. Hayley, A. E. Keuneman, D. S. Jayawickrama and Cyril E. S. Pereira.

After the speeches on Call Night, the Benchers retired arm in arm, and the Juniors were left to help themselves to more drinks and to bring in friends as the guests of the Inn. Each was allowed to have two guests. Then came the butler with a muslin bag for the only tip which one was required to give throughout one’s stay at the Inn, and each Junior dropped a five pound note in it.

At Lincoln’s Inn, no one stands up for the toast of the king. Tradition has it that King Charles II who was entertained at Lincoln’s Inn in 1671 dined so well that the King gave his permission for the Royal Toast to be drunk in this manner. And so it has been ever since.

It only remained to go the next day to the King’s Bench Division and sign the Roll of Barristers. My certificate states that I had paid all dues, that my deportment at the Inn “hath” been proper and that I had been called to the Outer Barrister as opposed to an Inner Barrister, one who sits at the inner Bar, that is, a Queen’s Counsel.

The lunches at the Inn were delightful and cheap. Lunch was served in the hall on all days on which the Courts were sitting. Judges, Barristers in their wigs and gowns, students all used to sit on the benches irrespective of status and an animated conversation went round the table over the meal. No bill was brought, but after the meal, one was expected to go to the butler who sat at a high table at the entrance to the hall and tell him what one had ordered and eaten. One was then told the amount due. Everyone was placed on trust and that trust was never misplaced.

Before finishing with Lincoln’s Inn, I take the liberty of reproducing a very interesting and humorous editorial from the London Times of May 1931:

Polygamy in Lincoln’s Inn

The Inns of Court, as befits their great age and greater dignity, take particular pains about the character of those whom they allow to reside inside their gates; and as the Courts of Chancery claim a traditional pre-eminence over the Courts of Common Law as homes of the most austere rectitude, where rhetoric is never heard or is heard in tight-lipped silence, so is no Inn more careful to maintain the standard of impeccability among its tenants than Lincoln’s Inn. Common lawyers expect to jostle and mingle with all manner of men, but Chancery lawyers who take neither pride nor pleasure in the rough and tumble, are not to be offered any but the hand-picked company of highly necessary solicitors, the more thoughtful and statistical kind of politician and the steadier sort of journalist.

Into this company have now intruded individuals of a different stamp, whose general air of insolvency, combined with an addiction to the pond and to matrimonial irregularities, suggest that they have mistaken the Inn for the neighbouring Courts of Bankruptcy or Probate, Admiralty and Divorce. The Inn allows married couples, and smiles indulgently at the spectacle of children playing on its lawns. The law has always recognized marriage and its customary consequence as among the most valuable of the institutions which make the legal profession a necessity.

The litigation in Chancery is so peculiarly dependent on the family and the family quarrels, that the noise of children quarreling, so painful to many other men of affairs, is sweet prophetic music to the Chancery silk. But the three drakes and two ducks who have started to live in New Square an unseemly life of indolence and pleasure, with an absence of reticence that a Hollywood publicity man might envy, are carrying things altogether too far.

When a duck and a drake first appeared and settled in the pond at New Square and reared a family, everyone wished them well and the only anxiety was how to retain so model a couple as an encouragement to everyone else. They flew away, but another reappeared this year, and it looked as if the kindly offices of the Inn in making its pond comfortable have not been in vain, and that the lawyers were earning a good name among the better class of duck.

But the correspondent who has followed events for this journal has had an increasingly disreputable tale to unfold. The drake brought a second duck openly to the pond in full view of the King’s Proctor, and the appearance of two more drakes has now given the pond an example of the type of promiscuous modern household which has sometimes been described in fiction but which respectable people have liked to think was exaggerated.

It is only three days since this last development, but already the trouble which any experienced solicitor could have predicted seems to be breaking out, and the King’s peace is endangered where it ought to be most secure. There is an excuse, and it is the excuse common in such entangling alliances – the excuse of unhappiness. Four out of the first wife’s seven eggs were stolen, one by one, by rats, and the substitutes provided by the Inn never seemed the same.

If the feathered creation offends against the spirit of much of our legislation, at least it is guiltless of the kidnapping and rapine which makes the name of rat enjoy so little favour. But, though the guardians of the law must feel a little outraged that robbery can take place under their very noses like this, there is a certain consolation for legal men in the goings on by the pond. “That”, the lawyer can exclaim, “is nature for you, in all her notorious disrepute”.

So ruminating, he can turn away his gaze and, thinking with pride what the police mean and the judge have managed to make of human kind, and how seldom they steal each other’s offspring, he can settle down with all the clearer conscience to the preparation of his bills of costs.”

This was followed by a letter to the Editor…

The Ducks of Lincoln’s Inn Sir,

We are instructed by our clients, who, by the courtesy of the Benchers of Lincoln’s Inn, are occupying the premises known as “The pond”, to inform you that the other ladies and gentlemen referred to in your fourth leader of today were friends who sought a good address for census night, and some have stayed on to enjoy the hospitality of the beadle. There is no ground whatever for any suggestion of scandal.

We are directed to inform you that our clients require you to withdraw the imputation contained in your fourth leader. Otherwise they will take steps.

Yours faithfully Quackett and Quackett

Concurrently with my admission to Lincoln’s Inn, I entered as I have said, University College, London. The University Professors and lecturers were on the academic side, whereas the Bar lecturers, I was told, emphasized the practical or the court side of the law. Although I was enrolled at University College, lectures were also given at King’s College and at the London School of Economics, and the lecture hours were so fixed that, on the conclusion of one lecture, the students had time to walk to the other College for the next lecture.

I had many friends among the students. Amongst them was a Japanese professor of law who just didn’t and couldn’t understand what English Equity was. He was a most lovable man, fond of whisky. Before his departure for Tokyo, I presented him with a copy of Snell’s Equity.

I had the most amazing collection of professors and lecturers: amazing in the sense that most of them had an amazing memory, lecturing for an hour without a note before them and referring to leading cases by volume and page. There was Professor Parry lecturing on Contracts and Professor Lauterpacht on International law. He carried no notes with him but referred to the sections of the four treaties entered into after the first world war as if the treaties were before him.

There was Wolff who spoke on Logic, which was one of my sidelines. There was a very young and good-looking lecturer, very shabbily dressed, the only thing clean about him being his collar, who lectured to a class of about 60 students on the Conflict of Laws. The lectures were given on the third floor of the London School of Economics. The floor of the lecture room was boarded.

One day, the lecturer arrived in well-creased striped trousers, a smartly tailored black coat, wing collar, bow tie, etc. He looked a bridegroom. The entire class just gazed at the change in the man and 60 pairs of feet were going on the boarded floor creating a violent disturbance. Said the lecturer “Ladies and Gentlemen, I propose to proceed with my lecture. Please use your heads instead of your feet” and the noise subsided.

There was Professor Harold Laski about whom it would be impertinent for me to write. He is too well known in the world of politics and economics to need an introduction from me.

Special mention must be made of Professor Smith, the most eccentric man I ever met. I was following a course for the LL. M. on the Diplomatic History of the Nile, the Scheldt, the Elbe and the Danube. It happened that I was the only student following these lectures. Into a cold, large room in wintertime the Professor walked a minute before the lecture was due to start and asked me “You the only one?”

I said I did not know and that no one else had come. He said “Oh. Come up to my room. I have a fire there.”

Up in his room, when I had removed my overcoat, he said “You may smoke”. I took my pipe, and he his. Then he addressed me in these terms. “My lectures are from 6. 30 to 8 p.m. You will come at 6.30, not a minute earlier, not a minute late. You will knock on the door but you needn’t wait for an answer. You will leave at 8, not a minute early and not a minute late. You don’t need my permission.”

I was terrified with all this introduction, but discovered later that he was one of the kindliest of men. I was outside his door for the next day’s lecture ten minutes before time. At 6.30 sharp, I knocked and entered, and he had started his lecture to his only pupil, pointing with the stem of his pipe at the source of the Nile on a huge map which was hanging on the wall. He used no notes and kept puffing at his pipe, pacing up and down his book-lined room while he talked.

At one minute to 8 p.m. I was collecting my overcoat and books. At about one second to 8, my hand was on the doorknob, about to take myself out, when I heard him saying “and from there we’ll continue next time”. It was the same each week. As I entered at 6.30 “As I was saying last time… etc.” talk, talk talk till 8 p.m. And then “and from there we’ll continue next time.” A marvellous man with a marvellous brain, but an utter eccentric.

With the drop in rubber prices in 1932, I decided to return home and in the few months left to me before I sailed, to study Income Tax Law. I therefore went to my Professor and asked him to excuse me from attending his lectures. He said (remember I was the only student) “Oh! It doesn’t matter. I am paid to deliver these lectures and I deliver them whether you are here or not.”

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